The last chapter has concluded, closing the book on the lives of Din Dijarin and his son, Grogu, for the time being. Where season one set up the relationship between the two, the second season has focused on the strengthening of that bond, while also challenging their individual identities.
As great Star Wars does, it leaves more questions than it answers, creating either excitement or anxiety depending on one’s certain point of view. The effectiveness of this comes not just from the bond created between characters and audience, but by the meaning placed both blatantly in front of one’s face and hidden in the shadows. Lucas established this ideology in the original trilogy, proving his mastery of it with the prequels. Now the Wonder Twins, Lucas’s apprentice Dave Filoni and this generation’s innovator of cinema John Favraeu, have beautified the craft not just through technology but through craftsmanship. While we may not know all of the answers, the symbolism and metaphor in “Chapter 16: The Rescue,” offers a charcuterie board of meanings and myths.
The entirety of this season has centered around identity and its many facets. Where does it come from? To what extent does it define us? Can, will, and should it evolve as we do? The Krayt Dragon with impenetrable skin had to be defeated from the inside out, as Din Dijarin would have to change from the inside. Meeting Mandalorians of different capacities, be they a Cobb Vanth living with honor but not the heritage, Bo-Katan having the heritage but, from Din’s point of view, not the honor, or the ever enigmatic Boba Fett, Djarin’s beliefs about who and what he is was challenged with every episode.
“The Rescue” completes a cycle in The Mandalorian’s lifel, one where he evolved from staunch cultists to father and protector. Chapter 15 did a fantastic job of showing that change in Din, as he takes of his helmet without a second of hesitation because it’s what has to be done to save the Child. There are no lengths to which a father won’t go to protect his children, even if that means sacrificing their togetherness.
When Din removes his helmet this time it is to show love rather than protection. He’s been Grogu’s protector, even in this episode. He jumps right in front of Grogu to deflect a kill shot from Moff Gideon. But for the ones we love, we remove our armor. We make ourselves vulnerable, and Din does exactly that.
The removal of masks and helmets is always a pivotal piece of character development, as it reveals one’s truest self. As Luke Skywalker stands watching, images of his own father’s request must be flashing through his memory. “Just once, let me look on you with my own eyes.” This time, however, it is reversed, with the son requesting to look into the eyes of the father. Earlier, Grogu had been trying to touch Luke through the monitor, but he couldn’t. Albeit they are the same “kind”, they are not the same kin. When Grogu reaches for the face of his kin, it is the Mandalorian helmet, the most well-known (in galaxy and out) symbol of their culture and identity, that separates them. Only when Din removes this can the two truly be connected.
The path to that moment is not easy, with the Empire trying to shatter Din’s helmet and identity with the fists of the Dark Troopers. Thankfully beskar is nearly indestructible, the Mandalorian protecting the man inside. That man is the inverse of the dark troopers. According to Dr. Pershing, “The human inside was the final weakness to be solved.” as it regards the droids. Din’s humanist, however, is his greatest strength.
PAST AND PRESENT
The iterative storytelling style of Star Wars allows for fans to know both past and future, in part at least, while observing the present. Like history itself, Star Wars gets redefined as new artifacts are added to the archives. For Luke Skywalker, the history of his father defined the path he took in the original trilogy, and that of the Jedi defines who he becomes in The Last Jedi. At the time of this episode, Luke is not to the point where he wants the Jedi to end; instead, he is reestablishing the past in collecting artifacts of the Jedi to create his new Order. Grogu is an element in both, an artifact in his own right, but also one of the few Force users left, thus important to whatever Luke’s Order becomes.
The Mandalorian is not about the Jedi, though. It is about the Mandalorians, who they are, were, and will become. The darksaber is a manifestation of that, a weapon of the past still being fought over to decide who will take Mandalore into the future. Moff Gideon having the darksaber speaks to Mandalore’s history, its flawed culture that ate itself alive until the Empire could come in and burn the pieces to such an extent that some Mandalorians actually joined their oppressors. Stockholm syndrome.
The past cannot be changed, though it must be confronted. Bo-Katan is doing so in going after Gideon, but things don’t exactly go as planned. Din Djarin defeats Gideon in battle, unintentionally making himself the true wielder of the weapon. Is he the one to take Mandalore into the future? He does not want to be, as he tries to give the blade to Bo-Katan. Steeped, possibly trapped, in the tradition, she refuses to take it even when Din yields. She’s been in these circumstances before, which may explain her present decision. In Star Wars Rebels, Sabine Wren takes the darksaber from Maul, but does not believe herself to be the one to wield it and lead a divided Mandalore. That person is Bo-Katan, to whom Sabine gives the lightsaber by choice, like Din, rather than battle. This time is different. This time, she doesn’t take it. It is possible that her past with the darksaber, and more particularly losing it, haunts her. She may view the choice to freely accept the saber without battle as a violation of her morals and thus losing said blade to the Empire a bit of karma.
Nonetheless, she doesn’t want to fight another Mandalorian. Her efforts are to unite, not divide. Having the trust of a recovering fundamentalist like Din Djarin would be a boon to her efforts. Now she is faced with the same challenge Djarin faced with Grogu. What do you do when your heart tells you one thing, but your code tells you another?
LIFE AND DEATH
Where the theme of identity took the forefront for the season, symbolically and metaphorically life and death were key to the narrative. Eggs, water, and even the redemption of Migs Mayfield alluded to such, and brought in the idea that death need not be physical (something Star Wars has a checkered history with doing successfully).
The most prominent symbol in all of this was the late Razor Crest. Shaped like a womb, Din and Grogu were being birthed into a new life through their journeys. The Razor Crest had been practically destroyed on numerous occasions but was always able to be repaired. The same held true for Din and Grogu, who were always able to get through things, mostly through Din realizing his feminine, caring, loving side.
That all changed when the womb went boom. After that, more phallic, or masculine, symbolism began to creep its way in. The darksaber appeared more, as did the beskar staff. In Chapter 15, a key element in finding Grogu’s location was the use of a code cylinder being inserted. Phallic symbolism had been present throughout the series, namely Djarin’s Holiday Special rifle. Around Din, though, feminine symbols took the place of the phallic. His rifle was rarely present throughout the season, and it wasn’t until the end that he used the beskar staff. The femine had begun to overcome the masculine because Din only cared about taking care of his child, not status nor ego, nor even the galactic conflict at large. He even gives up the most phallic symbol of power a Mandalorian can have, the darksaber.
Bo-Katan, however, refuses to take it. Bo is trying to establish her own masculinity through following the tradition in order to claim the phallic symbol. This is foreshadowed when making the plan, as Bo uses the word “penetrate” with regards to the literal innards of the ship. Then, when executing the plan, she uses a stolen Lambda-class shuttle to penetrate the ship. Katan is aggressively trying to reclaim her status, a key element in masculine expression, in a way that starkly contrasts Din’s transformation. This could be a key element in season three.
But it is not just Bo-Katan who is trying to establish her dominance. The Empire is too. As it stands, the dark troopers are the most dominant force Moff Gideon has. Those dark troopers get removed from the ship, only to “swim” their way back in. A clear connection exists here between the Empire and the First Order, as the Empire went out into space to bring themselves back into the galaxy by impregnating worlds through their dominance, all puppet-mastered by Palpatine. With the Empire still out there, and Bo-Katan needing the darksaber, not to mention the loss of Grogu, a death in its own right, season three is wide open with possibility. Christmas of 2021 may be the merriest since The Force Awakens, and yours truly cannot wait.